Open Educational Resources and Practices

Content development, Current thinking in learning design, How to, L&T Research, MOOCs, Open education resources, Professional development, Project types, Quality, Resources, Strategic alignment, Validation Leave a Comment

A line drawing of an apple tree, is several different framed compositions on the one page

Featured image: Theory and practice of teaching art by Arthur Dow 1857-1922

Open Educational Resources (OER) and Practices (OEP) are one of the specialities within the College of Design and Social Context’s Digital Learning team. We have a combined 50 years experience in the field. This post is prepared primarily for the RMIT Library, who in recent meetings have expressed interest in our helping to inform work they’re embarking on around open education.

Importantly, our experience goes beyond Resources (content) and encompass Practices (research, learning, teaching, admin, management and support services). It is common to see individuals and organisations focus solely on open educational resources, and usually the consumption of it instead of a worthwhile contribution. While distinct, the two concepts interact.

An example of how open educational resources and practices interact:

Mark teaches a course in Management. He has taken copies of images, graphs, and text from Wikipedia and open research publications for use in his course website and his slide presentations for lectures and handouts. Because Mark has used media that carries a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike copyright license, he is required to distribute his derivative works with the same copyright, and not restrict others from freely accessing and reusing his content. Driven by the Share Alike requirement in the copyright of the open educational resources he has used, Mark is compelled to think about his own open educational practices.

  1. What copyright is he using on his content?
  2. Does he restrict people from accessing and reusing the content?
  3. Does his institution prevent him from honouring the Share Alike requirement?
  4. And – though not required by copyright, does Mark and his institution understand the spirit and intent of open education and research as it relates to content and practices? Does Mark and his institution help generate and grow open educational resources and practices?

In this example we see that a governing feature of open educational resources (copyright) is interacting with broader considerations of open educational practices. The Share Alike requirement was designed to prevent exploitation, abuse and closure of knowledge expressed in content, and even to try and compel its growth. This is perhaps best articulated in the Free Cultural Works definition, which helps tease out some of that intent for Creative Commons.

There are other examples of the interaction between open education resources and practices

While the prior scenario mainly deals with copyright as a driver of interaction between resources and practices, there are other aspects to open education that drive the interaction:

Format – do the formats of content and software grow or hinder access and participation in open education? Software and document formats are all too often difficult or impossible to operate across competing and non standard platforms. The Free Software movement has consistently tried to address this issue, especially where it impacts on people’s freedoms, privacy, choice and association.

Transparency – the transparency of process, and whether it should reveal (make open) the range of concerns to the development of education, such as curriculum design and versioning, funding and administration, private interests and influence in management, etc. The concept of transparency has seen some radical developments in our early period of Internet culture, partly represented by Gov2.0 in Australia and abroad, but more interestingly in the policies and practices of new political parties like the Pirate Party, activism like Wikileaks, and distributed, peer to peer, networked technology like BitTorrent or Blockchain. Such developments have gained little footing in the education sector.

Impact – the impact that open practices can have on research; industry and public and professional networking and engagement; marketing and branding; quality assurance, accuracy and relevance. There are many ways to inquire on the broadness of this last point. I searched “impact of open academic practices” and uncovered this 2015 report by Jonathan Adams for the European Union which touches on some, but not all, of the topics relevant to this point.

The MOOC setback

David Wiley, a pioneer of the open education movement in North America, lamented MOOCs in his 2014 essay, The MOOC Misstep and the Open Education Infrastructure. I also tried to weigh in on the issue, back in 2013 with MOOCs are a Manufactured Consent, or in a slightly more disciplined fashion with Open Online Courses and Massively Untold Stories, published through Ascilite 2014.

Rarely is there discussion about things like cooperating and collaborating with longer running and impactful open educational initiatives, or investing in a deeper comprehension of purpose, principles, benefits, and management around open education. What sooner takes place is a partnership with less known commercial publishers with finance capital (MOOC providers) with questionable ‘skin in the game’ and little to no track record. The MOOC providers, and the universities that partner with them, seem to ignore the longer running and more impactful initiatives like the Wikimedia Foundation, Open Courseware Consortium, Internet Archive or even UNESCO, perhaps because their inquiries were captured by the short lived attention that MOOCs attracted.

The crossover between open education resources and practices can also be seen in the changed policies that affect the core work of a university, such as the Australian Department of Finance and Deregulation 2010 response to the Gov2.0 Task Force which endorsed the recommendation that all Public Service Information be published with a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license (Recommendation 6). Soon after the Australian Research Council developed an Open Access Policy, as did the National Health and Medical Research Council with their Open Access Policy, and others involved in public service information work.

Open Educational Resources intersect with Open Education (and research) Practices, as it does with a broader movement of free and open access and reuse generally. An understanding of these intersecting domains and their histories would be valuable to a project entering the space.

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